West & Wilton Have Family Reunion in TS Eliot FestDate: 18 July 2008
Samuel West (pictured) and Penelope Wilton will return to the Donmar Warehouse later this year to star in Jeremy Herrin’s revival of TS Eliot’s rarely seen 1939 verse drama The Family Reunion (See News, 18 Apr 2008). The centrepiece of the Donmar’s upcoming festival celebrating the work of the 20th-century writer, the new production runs at the Donmar’s Covent Garden home from 25 November 2008 (previews from 20 November) to 10 January 2009.
After eight years absence, Harry (West) returns to the ancestral home to celebrate his mother's birthday. Tormented by a dark secret, he confides in Aunt Agatha (Wilton) only to discover that the family too have its own hidden demons.
T S Eliot (1888-1965) was a poet, playwright and literary critic. An American, he moved to the UK in 1914, and became a British citizen in 1927. His other plays include Sweeney Agonistes (1926), Murder in the Cathedral (1935), The Cocktail Party (1949) and The Elder Statesman (1958), but he remains best known for his poems including The Waste Land, The Love Song of Alfred J Prufock, Ash Wednesday and his magnum opus Four Quartets. His collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats provided the inspiration for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.
Speaking to Whatsonstage.com, director Jeremy Herrin explained the reasoning behind the T S Eliot Festival. “Eliot’s achievements as a poet have overshadowed his really remarkable achievements as a dramatist. I think if he had just written plays, he’d be celebrated as one of the great and most influential figures in 20th-century verse drama.”
The Family Reunion was chosen as the centrepiece of the Donmar’s celebration because “it’s his strongest play, the one most apposite for a serious revival”. According to Herrin: “The play looks back to Greek drama, with lots of elements of Aeschylus, and there are references to Shakespeare, but you could also argue that it prefigures a lot of later 20th-century stuff, like Pinter, in its use of language and its enigmatic and bewitching undercurrent. It’s imagistic and expressionistic. I think it will feel extremely modern.”
As for the casting, Herrin commented: “It’s a play for really intelligent actors. The material is very rich and intellectually demanding but also very satisfying - the actors have to have a hunger for that.” West and Wilton, said Herrin, are “two of the smartest actors around”.
Penelope Wilton is currently at the Donmar starring in artistic director Michael Grandage’s revival of Enid Bagnold’s 1956 comedy The Chalk Garden, which finishes on 2 August. Samuel West was at the theatre last summer in Roger Michell’s revival of Pinter’s three-hander Betrayal. The latest stage acting role for the former Sheffield Crucible artistic director come fast on the heels of a revival of Granville Barker’s Waste, which he’s directing at the Almeida Theatre from 2 October to 15 November 2008 (previews from 25 September). Further casting for the 12-strong company of The Family Reunion has not yet been confirmed.
In addition to the full-scale revival, the T S Eliot Festival will also include several readings, all performed on The Family Reunion set. They are: Four Quartets, performed by Stephen Dillane and directed by Katie Mitchell (14-17 January); Murder in the Cathedral, directed by Douglas Hodge (2 December); The Cocktail Party, directed by Jamie Lloyd (17 December); and an evening of Eliot verse, including The Waste Land, produced and directed by novelist Josephine Hart (1 December, 5 January).
- by Terri Paddock